Sexual Shame in Student Ministry
Dirty and defiled. Outsider. All eyes on you.
These words are the collective experience of a student’s life in shame’s prison. It’s the pointing and laughing during elementary school. It’s the piercing, judgmental gazes of junior high and high school students. Shame is the prison of other people’s glances.
Years ago, as I sat petrified in my sin, a trusted mentor looked at me and offered some words that changed me. He said, “You know that Jesus didn’t just die for your sins. He died for your shame as well.” I sat in silence as I pieced together just what he was saying to me. What did Jesus have to do with my feelings of being an outsider, of being exposed, of being defiled?
In student ministry, shame permeates everything, especially for students who have struggled and sinned sexually. As students navigate the unstable, judgmental halls of junior high and high school, shame is the vernacular of their experience, and sexual sin brings a wholly different aspect of shame to the lives of those who have felt its grasp.
For students who can’t believe they just sent that inappropriate picture over the phone, they might desperately wonder, who knows what I just did? Who knows but isn’t saying anything? How can I ever show my face again? Or what about the student who’s been sexually sinned against by another: I’m damaged goods. Who knows about what happened to me? Who will find out?
The good news is that God has not left us or our students alone in our shame. Some wonderful passages in the Scriptures let us into this concept of Christ being shamed on our behalf, and these can help both lift the darkness and extinguish the spotlight that hangs over our students’ heads.
I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting
He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces. He was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities
And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head.
Jesus endured the undignifying gazes, the scorn, and the reproach of His fellow man that students might be freed from shame’s paralyzing prison. And, over time, even the most shame-ridden student can find solace and comfort in the One who knows the bitterness of shame and can find in His triumphant victory the power, identity, and freedom to live openly and unashamedly.
Because of Christ’s work, students need not fear the shame that sin brings. Shame no longer clings to them like filthy robes. Right now, students who place their hope in Jesus are clothed in His righteousness, in all of its beauty and splendor (2 Corinthians 5:21). We can join our students in proclaiming these simple truths: We are washed. We are children. We are saints.
If students listen to the voice of shame, they give into the voice of a lie that whispers, “You are other. You are an outsider. You don’t belong.” But our Father gives students the truth: “You do belong. You are mine.”
Shame would rip away from students the dignity bestowed upon them in the name of Christ. But for students who have trusted in Jesus, their dignity is preserved in Him as they themselves bear His name and righteousness and, one day, will fully bear His glory in purity and holiness. No matter if students sin or are sinned against sexually, their Saviour would have them live in community and light, not in isolation and darkness.
When ministering to students, sin and repentance tend to be my guiding principles. I forget, though, that shame wields much power over both us and our students.
If students come to you in desperation because they are gripped by things like pornography, confusion about their gender, or same-sex attraction, or if they reveal a sexual experience that happened to them, know that shame has probably closed its prison bars around them.
Let’s make an effort this week to connect the dots for a student or two – or perhaps for the whole student ministry!—between the shaming of Christ on their behalf and the beautiful truth that students need no longer hide for fear of shame. It might be just as simple as saying the words that were said to me: “Students, you know that Jesus didn’t just die for your sins. He died for your shame as well.”
Amen and amen.